What I Learned When My Daughter Chose Her Own Life Lessons

I’ve talked about my desire to teach my kids to have loud voices, to advocate for themselves and for others. Often, I’ve related that to the politics of the day. But really, kids learn to speak for themselves in smaller spaces, in family conversations and school hallways. So I’m taking a little bit of a left turn today to tell a story about my daughter, and what happened when everyone wanted her to learn (opposing) life lessons.


The Beginning, 2016


My daughter is a word nerd. She inhales books and discusses the best new releases with her equally wordy friends. So last year, when she was finally eligible for Battle of the Books, she was all in.


Battle of the Books is a nationwide competition put on by librarians in school districts everywhere. Teams of five students read twelve books, and answer detailed questions about the books in rounds of competitions. In my daughter’s district, fourth and fifth graders compete. Each school holds 2 months of school-wide competition. The winning team advances to a district final.


Battle of the Books, Fourth Grade


Last year, her team came in second in her school, missing districts by a point or two. Her team was full of great readers but a few of them argued over answers, and often had trouble agreeing.


I’m a huge advocate of kids learning from their own mistakes, and this was a perfect example. They squabbled during the school rounds and those arguments were the team’s downfall.


Lesson My Daughter Learned (I Thought): Sometimes, it’s important to put aside disagreements and work together towards a goal.


The team seemed to take that to heart. This year, four of the girls on the team came back, they added a fifth, revived the team name and started reading. They had extra meetings to make sure everyone knew their books. They talked out any confusion, and added a team requirement that each team member read 10-12 books, multiple times.


In the middle of the early rounds, my daughter told me she realized they were doing better because her team was all girls (they had one boy last year) and they all read more books.


Lessons Learned (According to My Daughter): First, work harder for what you want. Second, boys have cooties.


Battle of the Books, Fifth Grade


The school rounds continued this year, and her team was ahead every round. By the time it was down to two teams, it was clear they would win the school title and move on to finals.


That’s also the week her team realized that one of the girls would be out of town for districts. It was the beginning of the Battle of the Books drama.


How would they fill that spot? The girls picked their original team; could they simply pick a friend as a replacement? Would a new person agree to extra study sessions? Could they enforce the team requirement that the alternate read 10-12 books, multiple times?


The librarian laid down the replacement law: Any fifth grader who competed was eligible to enter a random drawing to take the alternate spot, if they had read a minimum of two books. In theory, it kept teams from replacing a weaker team member with a book-reading ringer, keeping it fair for everyone.


My daughter did not think it was fair. Her team did not think it was fair.


Battle of the Books, Alternate Ideas


That night, I suggested that daughter should clarify what she wanted. A teammate started a virtual team meeting. They decided to offer other ideas.


They explained to the librarian that they wanted a teammate they could work with. They wanted a girl-power team. Mostly, they wanted someone who met the unofficial team qualifications, or no one at all. They wanted to compete as a team of four.


Lesson I Wanted My Daughter to Learn: When you think a rule is unfair, work to change it.


The librarian listened and understood their concerns. She felt bad that it came down to a random draw. But she also told them that she had to consider teams from other schools and how a change would alter the future of the competition. The original plan stood. She told them it was a life lesson.


Lessons The Librarian Wanted The Team to Learn: Sometimes, the best plans change, requiring flexibility. It’s important to show grace and acceptance in the face of unexpected adversity.


Initially, we thought that was the end of it. We were wrong.


Battle of the Books, The Hurricane


The night before the draw, the girls started an email campaign to all the librarians in the school district, asking for a change in how the alternate was chosen. One girl sent an email filled with emojis. Another singed hers “with good wishes.” The first librarian responded with support. The second suggested better sportsmanship.


The girls stood their ground. They asked the parents to get involved. They met with the principal. Emails and texts flew between the team, the schools and the parents.


After a whirlwind morning, the girls got the news: They could choose to compete as a team of four, or take the randomly drawn alternate, their choice. They huddled to make their decision.


They took the alternate.


Wait, what?


Lessons I Wanted My Daughter to Learn (Part Two): Persistence pays off, and it’s both OK and important to stand your ground.


Persistence pays off….and here they were, accepting the original plan, the one they hated and fought against and started a virtual cyclone over. I was so confused.


That afternoon I asked my daughter what had happened? What changed their minds?


Once the decision was in their hands, having another team member didn’t seem so bad. They all agreed, she said. They wanted another kid to have the chance to be excited about going to districts as well.


Lesson Learned (According to My Daughter): Autonomy matters. To quote my daughter directly: “It’s important to be able to make your own decisions, not have somebody decide things for you.”


As for me, I realized that autonomy does matter. My daughter was right. It is important for her to learn her own lessons, even if it’s not the lesson I would choose. Whether you are an adult on the wild ride that is parenthood or a tween learning independence, sometimes life lessons come packaged in ways you don’t expect.

Dear Mo Brooks: Do I Lead A Bad Life?

Dear Mr. Brooks,

I have a pre-existing condition, so I guess I lead a bad life.

You know what’s really bad? Going in for surgery and coming out with nerve and organ damage is bad. Losing my health in two hours. That was a bad day.

I usually keep this part quiet, but since you seem to have strong opinions about good and bad, I’ll tell you. I had surgery to fix damage from childbirth with my two kids. I guess if I hadn’t had children, I wouldn’t have needed the surgery that gave me the pre-existing condition. But then I would have either been a woman who had an abortion or a woman who (gasp!) chose not to have kids, and I’m going to guess both of those things would have landed a check in your “bad” column as well.

Let me tell you a little about my life before my pre-existing condition, back when it was a good one.

I ran a lot, including marathons. I loved vegetables, except kale, because, who really loves kale? I took my tiny kids on walks and hikes. We swam a lot.

I was a Physical Therapist. My whole career revolved around helping people stay healthy, so they could live good, fulfilling lives too. You’re an older guy; maybe you’ve seen someone like me to help you rehab an injury? Most people have by your age, which means they have pre-existing conditions too. If you haven’t, maybe you can ask Chaffetz about it; he’s going to need some PT for that foot.

Here’s the thing: All the salads and good living in the world didn’t change my outcome or my story. It took a brief moment under anesthetic for my life to go from a good one to a bad one, by your definition.

Newsflash, you bigoted old fool: I live a good life with a pre-existing condition and a disability. Getting to the point I could call it a good life was hard as hell, and I’ll miss my old life for the rest of my new one. That doesn’t make my life less valuable now. The things I had to learn along the way, like patience and compassion and humility might just make my life better. I’m guessing you don’t understand that.

So let’s talk a little about my life now. Let’s talk about why I think it’s a good one and what you really mean by a bad life.

First, I love my family. My husband I are raising two whip-smart, kind, empathetic kids. We’ve instilled the idea of “do unto others as you would have done to you.” Those are checks in your “good life” column, right?

They think you’re an ass. Also, we’re agnostic, so we skipped the Bible verses and told them to be good people who care about others. That’s probably two checks in your “bad” column, right?

I’m pro-choice but I’m also pro-child. While I’d like abortion to be legal, safe and rare, I care more that the children who are born have food and shelter and healthcare. Even if, like my daughter, they are born with a pre-existing condition and spend some nights in Children’s Hospital before their first birthday.

I still exercise as much as I can and I still like vegetables. All the healthy living in the world won’t make me less dependent on the medical supplies that keep me alive. Your falsely moralistic statement that good things happen to good people, including health, is so far-fetched that it would be comical if you didn’t have a vote in shaping healthcare policy. That vote makes your statement terrifying and cruel.

Here’s the thing you need to know about those of us with pre-existing conditions, especially people like me whose health changed their lives.

We’ve learned two things. The first is compassion. You can’t have life deal you such a resounding blow without understanding that anyone can be the next victim of cancer or MS or a surgical complication, and that living a good life has nothing to do with it. The second thing we’ve learned it how to fight. It takes ridiculous amounts of time and energy and persistence to fight for the services and medical supplies we need and often we have to fight despite poor odds, because we want to stay alive.

We have compassion and commitment to a fight. If anyone is ready to fight for healthcare for the next three years and nine months, it’s us.

And we’re tired of your bullying moral superiority. Health and good luck alone don’t make a good life. Too bad you lack compassion and the courage to fight for anyone other than yourself. That seems like a bad life.

Parenting, Politics and the Women’s March

I attended a Woman’s March today with my daughter. Upon coming home, I read comments from several friends, asking why we couldn’t wait and just give the administration a chance. I’d like to address the very real actions of this administration that helped us decide to march. Why we decided it was worth being called names, losing sleep and standing in one place for 90 minutes just waiting to get to the route before spending another 8 hours on our feet.

My top five reasons to get political with my daughter today:

1) “I moved on her like a bitch…and she was married….I just start kissing them…..and when you’re a star…you can do anything. Grab ‘em by the pussy.”

-The President of the United States of America

This quote alone is enough. This is the President of the United States bragging about sexual assault. This is not me worried about something he might do; this is me worried about what he has done, and how he might abuse his position to assault other women. This was the end of his “chance”.

But since that wasn’t enough for voters, here are the others:

2) Donald Trump signed the order to pave the way for the ACA to be repealed. He campaigned on it, and he did it.

If you read this blog, you know I have a medical condition that REQUIRES medical care. Without it and the medical equipment delivered to my house every month, I have two choices. I can go to the ER every few days. Or I can die. This is not hyperbole. I need actual health care, not “access” to health care, the same way I have “access” to a three million dollar house, if I could just afford it.

No, my health insurance is not through the ACA. But I need the protections provided in that law, because without them, I am one walking pre-existing condition. I’m lucky enough to be well covered, but my fate is also the fate of many others who need the same protections.

3) Betsy DeVos, for so many reasons.

Look, I’m going to make a lot of people mad and say that I understand the drive for vouchers, and while my kids attend a great school that they love, there was a time we considered private school and vouchers would have helped us get there. I also went to private school as a child.

And in my very Christian private school education, I had truly amazing teachers. Except for science. Because we didn’t study science. I could recite large swathes of the Bible from memory by 2nd grade. Science, not so much.

Here’s what I learned about “science”: Charles Darwin was a bad guy and anything that supported evolution, bad. The Earth was 6,000 years old. You know what supports evolution, but also medicine and manufacturing and innovation? SCIENCE! When my kids started doing really cool science projects in elementary school, I realized just how much I missed. Did I catch up? Yes, but it required a crisis of faith to get there.

In a world that increasingly relies on science and technology, I have reservations about tax dollars going to fund schools that can ignore subjects based on religious preference, and she has worked to include religious schools in voucher programs.

And also, guns in school. And grizzly bears. And the IDEA law. And Title IX and civil rights and sexual assault (see number one and put it in this context).

4) And while I’m on the topic of civil rights, and LGBTQ rights, and climate change and disabilities….these are among the topics that were removed from the WhiteHouse.gov page within hours of Donald Trump’s inauguration.

Three of these pages directly relate to my children and I. The fourth effects people I care about. They all effect people, period.

5) I’m going to lump several in as “other cabinet picks”. A director of the HHS who has repeatedly stated the direction for the ACA, Medicare and Medicaid is a direction I believe to be harmful to actual people in this country. A director of energy with conflicts of interest and a seemingly questionable understanding of the department he would be tasked to run. A HUD director who has no background in housing or urban development. Steve Harvey.

6) Ok, I said five, but I’m also going to throw in disdain for the CIA, the FBI and the NSA. Giving a speech to the CIA and discussing the size of the crowds on Inauguration Day and the number of times he has appeared on Time magazine’s cover. The “war on the press”. The war on Saturday Night Live. (Thanks, SNL….it’s comedy gold.)

Oh, and 7) A guy in line for the bus. The conversation went like this:

Him: “You’re going to the protest?”

My daughter and I: “Yes.”

Him: “You’re the problem. You think people should have to serve anyone, help anyone…like those bakers. You drive people out of business. You’re ruining the country.”

Me: “….”

Him: “What if a 30 year old man wanted to go in the bathroom with her (points to my daughter) just because he identifies as a woman. That wouldn’t bother you?”

Me, my daughter and my mom, all at once: “No.” “That’s fine.” “Not at all.” (I really love them. Spoiler: He left when he realized it was an entire bus full of people going to the march.)

I marched so the administration, and all our local reps would pay attention, and to try and stop the carnage of the last two days (thanks for the quote, DT). I took my daughter because I hope she learns to be involved now, and it carries through her life. We did it because we’ve been watching what has happened and discussing it and she wanted to go. We marched because we believe that deciding to “wait and see” will do even more damage, and OMG, there’s already enough. We marched because I believe that this administration will increase my daughter’s risk of sexual assault, and the only danger for a 30-year-old transgender woman is that she will get assaulted herself in the men’s bathroom. I took my daughter because in her life, I want her to stand up for herself, but also for others.

Hours, Minutes and Moments: Living with a Hidden Health Condition

Since I started this blog, I’ve been approached by several people who are living a story similar to mine, hiding their health in plain sight. We are all involved in life, in challenging jobs or parenting and the volunteer work that accompanies it. We are the first people asked to take on a project or to work a little later or to fix just this final problem. And we all say yes, over and over until we can’t do it anymore.

When we finally say no, we worry that we look lazy or uninterested or self-involved or maybe even crazy, when really, we are physically incapable of continuing.

These people all asked for a voice, for someone to try and show the world what it looks like to function in a body that sometimes works against itself. “Functioning” looks different in each area of my life, whether that is parenting or work or daily activity or navigating the maze that is our medical system. I’ll touch on each in greater depth over the next couple weeks.

Today is an overview and I’ll tell you what I can.


My life is lived in a combination of numbers, of hours and minutes and moments and choices.


It is the ticking of the clock.


It is watching the minutes and hours pass by, waiting to be able to stand. Waiting to be comfortable enough to fall asleep. Waiting for my body to relax, for the imagery or the breathing or the distraction or the medication to do enough for me to continue on.


It is the translation of a 1-10 scale, one that I am often asked to repeat, when I’d rather forget it exists.


Three or four is a great day for a run.

Five means the gym and an article written, a deadline met.

At six, I can drive my kids to school and yoga can calm my body down.

Seven and my focus turns inward. I take the wrong turn, the wrong exit, because my energy is absorbed by breathing…..standing…..driving.

I double over at eight, unlikely to stop the trajectory of pain. At eight, I better get home, and quickly.

Nine means I’m stuck in a child’s chair in a classroom, or a couch at a friend’s house or the floor of the clinic at work, reliant on….someone……to get me home if I haven’t made it there yet.

At ten I hear ambulance sirens.


It is hours and afternoons and days lost.


It is a constant calculus, a determination that yes, I can keep walking for the next 20 minutes, that I can keep standing for the next three hours, that I can still drive and cook and write for the next five. Sometimes it is the knowledge that I can’t move for the next five hours. Or ten hours. Or two days. It’s learning that there is nothing to fix and nothing to change and nothing to do but wait.


It is 21 medications, two surgeries and a dozen euphemistically named procedures.


It is medication trials that run on, sometimes for a day or two, sometimes for a month or two, always bringing new side effects but never the desired effect. It is “no really, this won’t make you feel groggy/feel sick/feel tired…..it did? Sometimes it does.”


It is 13 medical practitioners and countless nurses, assistants and schedulers.


It is the amazing doctors, nurses, physical therapists and others, people who have helped when they could and offered support when they couldn’t. It is three women in three specialties who have smoothed my transition more than they know, and more than I can say, by their skill and grace and humanity.

But it is also egos and assumptions, with occasional doctors who are more concerned with what they think should happen than what actually works, with hearing their own voices instead of mine.

It is understanding and misunderstanding and learning to be my own best advocate. It is believing that sometimes the best course of action is no action, and then convincing myself to search again for answers and options.


It is placing value and managing expectations, accepting that doing some is greater than doing none or all.


It is learning that I can’t do everything, many things or most things. I can pick three-areas I devote my energy with varying success. The rest has purposely fallen away. It is choosing to stay active, to nurture relationships and to keep learning. It’s not a perfect science, and there are always days I fall short. It is deciding to write an article but skip a PTA event, no matter how often I am asked. Admitting I had to do less gave me the space to find my center, to find the eye in the midst of the tornado and to move forward.


It is choosing to enjoy the moment, even if the moment is harder to come by.


People in Seattle appreciate the summer in a way I’ve never seen in other locales. After the general absence of the sun for nine months, we embrace every chance to run, hike, bike, sunbathe, swim, walk, shop, eat or lounge outdoors. We revel in the perfect temperatures and the abundance of activities. This is the mindset I’ve adopted after six years of being uncertain how tomorrow will fall. I have learned to find joy in the success of those I love, and I appreciate my own adventures even more.


Politics, By Way of Nashville

Because sometimes, we all need to laugh at politics or parenting or life, I present to you:

The Day I (Really) Should Have Known Trump Would Win

Two weeks before the election, a friend and I went to Nashville for a girls’ weekend. Nashville is a vibrant city, filled with young people, artists and musicians, all hipper than I will ever be. The bartender in one of the trendy restaurants, a recent transplant from San Francisco, told us that 90 people a day are moving to Nashville. While I didn’t check his numbers, it’s clearly an up-and-coming city.

One night, we wandered “South of Broadway”, with its Honkey Tonks-bars and clubs where amazing Nashville musicians play for tips. Like Goldilocks, it took us a few tries to find the club with the right fit. The first bar was too hottie, crawling with bachelorette parties, the second too filled with sleaze. The third was Layla’s, a casual music club and the home of Nashville Hillbilly Music, according to their sign. We grabbed a spot at the front of the balcony bar, and chatted with an older couple next to us.

They were gregarious and easy to talk to. They had been visiting Nashville from the mountains in North Carolina for years, they said. They told crazy stories about New Year’s Eves on Broadway and lamented that lack of dance space in the bars since the tourists moved in.

Thirty minutes into the music, the husband, who was a couple drinks in by now, leaned over to me and whispered, “So, who are you going to vote for?”

Me: Shocked silence.

I live in Seattle. I believe in marriage equality, in women’s rights and racial harmony. I want a ban on assault weapons, laws that support reproductive rights and legal pot, even if I’ve never tried the stuff. Hell, I drive a Subaru and I’m not actually into country music. I am a walking liberal stereotype. I know this.

I tried to change the topic, to steer the conversation in another direction. I tried to pivot.

It didn’t work. “No, seriously, I want to know. Who are you going to vote for?”

Me: Uncomfortable silence.

I told him that I thought that politics and religion should stay out of the bar.

“Now I’m really curious! Who are you voting for?”

Finally, I told him I was a woman from Seattle, and those two facts alone should point him in the likely direction of my vote.

Which is when his wife leaned over and said, “But do you like facts?”

Yes, I told them, I do. I do like facts.

There was a pregnant pause. Then, they both started to talk at once. “So, who are you voting for?” he said. “Do you care about Benghazi?” she said.

At this point, my friend, also a walking liberal stereotype, started eyeing the door.

We had a moment of reprieve. Two young guys on the other side of North Carolina couple jumped the conversation, to shout their support for Trump. Then another. And a few more.

There we were. Just two liberal 40-something gals at a spontaneous Trump rally in a bar in Nashville, the town that is young and hip and artsy and full of musicians and transplants from all over the country.

Right there. That’s the moment that I should have realized what this election would bring.

I leaned over to my new friend and his wife.

“If you are going to run us out of the bar, could you give us a little notice? We just want some time to get ahead of the crowd and get down the stairs.”

I was enveloped in an inebriated hug. “We’re not going to chase you out. You’re an American. I’m an American. We gotta get along. Also, my wife and I are going to steal Johnny Cash’s mailbox tonight.” Then he high-fived me, repeatedly.

Everybody returned to the music, except my Johnny Cash super-fan friend. He proceeded to tell me, in great detail, the elaborate plan to steal the mailbox. Where it was located. Why it had not yet been liberated from its legal home. How he and his wife were the perfect people to own it.

He was hilarious, although possibly not covert enough for his operation. I left shortly after and on my way out, I told his wife good luck with the Johnny Cash mailbox mission. Her mouth dropped open. “I can’t believe he told you that!” Then she hugged me goodbye.

I don’t if they ever managed to get Johnny Cash’s mailbox. But if it’s gone, I don’t know anything about who took it or where in the mountains of North Carolina it might be. Because I’ve got their backs. Just like they had mine.

Why Loud Voices?

I’ve said part of my goal is to raise kids “with loud voices”. I want them to be engaged in the world and able to advocate for themselves and for others. But what does that mean, and why do I care?

A Little Background

When I was growing up, the family joke was that my parents raised three only children. Despite our shared genetics, we didn’t particularly look alike. We had different hobbies, followed different sports and a book recommendation from one sibling was likely to be an unfinished read for another. And it wasn’t just the kids.

Whether adult or child, we clashed right down to the fundamentals. In our family of five, we covered all side of issues ranging from evolution to trickle-down economics to gun control to worker’s rights to a woman’s place in society. The first Presidential election all three kids were old enough to vote in was Clinton/Bush. With five family members, we voted for at least four different candidates. If I had to label us politically, my family included a Republican, a Democrat, a Libertarian, a Socialist and an “Oh, God, please stop talking about politics.”

This is not to say that we didn’t enjoy each other. I got my love of the outdoors from both my parents, of water from my mom and skiing from my dad. I spent happy hours in the library in college, studying with my brother. We all share a love of science and real joy in learning. And we were all raised to believe that actions speak so much louder than words.

My Dad, the Not-Quite-Accidental Activist

My father was a pilot, and a good one. He was a check-pilot, making sure others were trained and capable. When I was seven, the pilots’ union went on strike, for a whole lot of legitimate reasons. He was home for a bit, and then we heard the strike was ending the next day. But, according to family folklore, union leadership then decided to renegotiate the contract. The strike was back on.

A few days later, he went back to work, crossing picket lines. I got the mail the day there was a voodoo doll in the mailbox. I answered the phone to a bomb threat made in a rumbling voice. When he was home next, my dad introduced us to Ted, who was “a friend staying with us.” He also told us to play inside for a while.

Ted was an armed guard who lived with us until the strike ended. I was seven.

This isn’t meant to be an indictment of my dad, the union, the airline or anybody else. (Except maybe the guy who made a bomb threat to a seven-year-old. You sir, have issues.) To this day, I don’t know the exact sequence of negotiations from that strike. I do know that my dad showed he was a person who put principle first, even if it was unpopular or uncomfortable to do so. This is the common thread passed on to his children, despite our conflicting views on just about everything else.

So What Does That Look To Me?

A loud voice is different than a brash voice. It’s easy to get caught up in the screaming, to call names but scrimp on solutions. I believe as strongly as anyone in the causes that matter, in my case kindness and tolerance, freedom of speech and religion and a country free from bigotry. However, it’s not as easy to dismiss half a country, when that half includes multiple members of my own family. Yes, I disagree. Yes, I will fight to the end for what I believe. But I don’t get to call (part of) my family stupid and believe that’s the end of it.

Fighting for what I believe requires understanding the issues I am fighting for. Because I don’t get to dismiss people and their arguments out of hand, I have to listen to the multiple sides of an issue. Believe me, it makes me crazy sometimes! But it also makes me more aware and better versed on an issue, which hopefully leads to sustainable change. Barring people spewing hatred, listening to an opposing view is not complicity.

I learned from my dad that it takes a little courage, or maybe a lot of stubborn, to stand up for your principles. It will be uncomfortable. Using your voice to effect change is rarely simple or short. It takes individual people making a decision that there is a line that cannot be crossed (or maybe, in my dad’s case, one he had to cross). It takes walking up to that line, and staying there, even if people put voodoo dolls in your mailbox. It takes determination to change a country.

My kids are tweens, in the midst of finding their voices. I find myself in the unique position of redefining my own voice. I think my kids and I would have gotten here eventually, but the twin catalysts of my health and this election have given us a good shove down this path. My plan is to choose my line, listen well and then act with as much conviction or sheer pig-headedness as I am able. I hope my kids join me. Even if they don’t, I hope they learn to think, listen and act for themselves.

Welcome to the Wild Adventure

My life is a dichotomy. I spent 20 minutes this morning sorting soccer schedules and 20 minutes scheduling space for a “Social Activism 101 for Kids” class. My daughter and I formed our own mother-daughter running club. It is our happy space and time together, except on the days that I can’t stand up to run. I spent the first 15 years of my career helping people stay active and the last five years managing my own health problems.

I thought at first that I would write about staying active with my kids. If I had a dollar, or even a quarter, for every time someone has asked how our family-and specifically my kids-stay so active, I’d be well on my way towards saving for an extreme vacation. What’s the best exercise for kids? (It depends.) How do I make my kids do a sport? (Good luck with that.) Why don’t your kids play video games? (They do sometimes, but don’t see the need.) How do I convince my kids to run with me? (They like it.) And the most common: How did I get my kids to be active? (I’m active with them.)

I have lots to say and years of experience, because yes, I have two really active kids in an active family. They ski, run, play soccer, swim, enjoy the outdoors, ride bikes and ask for active vacations. And I do it with them. Except when I can’t. How do I explain that my family has learned the value in activity because sometimes, I can’t stand?

This is the first time I’ve said out loud that I’m a person with a disability. Even after 15 years of working with people with disabilities, some of the most amazing people I know, I still don’t like to apply the label to myself. I want to be more. But the truth is, every person with a disability is more. And I believe that goes beyond the standard idea that “we are husbands and wives and friends and workers and writers and….” Yeah. Yeah. But I mean that we are more than we were before we “became” disabled or maybe before we became a parent or a spouse or a friend to someone with a disability.

Like the Grinch, my story made my heart grow three sizes, although maybe not in one day. I am more aware. I know what it feels like to belong to a group that doesn’t have the loudest voice. I am empathetic, knowing that every taunt and every stare at someone with an obvious physical disability could just as easily be pointed at me. I am kind. After going though something like I did, how could you ever wish pain or suffering on another human? I am strong. Yes, it’s true that I have physical limitations. But don’t discount the mental and emotional strength that come from coming through a challenging time, from learning to advocate for yourself or your friend or your child. And sometimes, I’m angry. I’m Pollyanna at heart, an optimist through and through, but that doesn’t make me blind to my own losses, or to the losses and hurt of other people.

It took the last year, the divisions I’ve seen in my family, my friends and my country to decide to stand up and stand out. It took watching a candidate for President make fun of a disabled reporter, a reporter who I’m willing to bet works harder than most to do his job well, to show that he is smart and capable and more. It took a rise in hate crimes and a philosophical Continental Divide to realize that if I plan to Be the Good, first I have to be honest. Because when that reporter was mocked, I bet not one of my family or friends thought of me. And maybe if they had, they would have been just a little more horrified, just a little louder.

So here I am, with the two halves of my life colliding. I’m choosing to tell my true story. How do I balance the two things I find most important, and how do I pass those values on to my children? I want them to live an active life, one filled with family fun, laughter and wild adventure. While they are on that adventure, getting buffeted in ways they didn’t plan, I want them to be aware and empathetic and kind and strong. And yes, when they see something degrading or hurtful or dangerous to those who have a quieter voice, I want them to be angry.

I choose to teach my kids that they can be athletes and scholars and activists and adventurers. They can be more. We can all be more.